I Was Here First
An angry man, scaling the cliffs of coherence and only rarely reaching the top.

Sep
19

Mitt Romney just cannot keep the stupid from falling out of his mouth. Gaffe after gaffe after gaffe keeps happening. At this point, it’s clear that the man has absolutely lost any chance of being the President of the United States and Obama is a shoe-in for another term.

Except that, even though Romney apparently started this week by getting bitten by a radioactive Sarah Palin (also known as the Serpentes Palinus) and gaining the proportional stupidity of the Greater Alaskan Spacker, this week has seen Obama’s Clinton/Eastwood-inspired 5-point gain in the polls utterly nullified.

Because in the world of politics, gaffes don’t count and neither does success.

Hell, after half a decade or so, history barely counts, either. We’ve got a transgendered Margaret Thatcher in Downing Street right now (yes, I am saying David Cameron has a vagina).

That’s because a clip showing a political slip-of-the-tongue or a poor understanding of facts or good ol’ fashioned disdain of the lower classes has a half-life of a day. A day is how long it takes the cock-up to spread across Twitter and Facebook. A day is how long it takes for all the opponents to get the snide jabs and cries of faux-outrage out of their system. And a day is how long it takes the politician’s base to rationalise said cock-up as “a good thing, really” or “a mis-quote” or “the truth, and you can’t handle the truth”.

The opponents find their dislike vindicated and the proponents feel beseiged and so close in tighter around their candidate and the polls stay exactly where they are.

Politically speaking, Mitt Romney was right when he said he could disregard 47% of the American population. I mean, ethically and morally, the man’s a gaping asshole that’s begging to be filled with a primed howitzer shell, but politically, he’s right. 47% of the American population will always vote for the Left, regardless of who they’re actually voting for. And a similar number will always vote for the Right, because, goshdarnit, them pesky Mexicans will come pouring across the borders to steal their wives and guns if they don’t. That means any genuine success or cock-up by the politicians matters for dick-all. Half the country celebrate Obama’s every success whilst the other half think it’s further proof that he’s the devil himself (and black, too! How dare he be so arrogant as to get voted into the White House whilst being black!).

It’s because some clever, proto-Alastair Campbell dickhead worked out that if you turn politics into a competition, with one side working against the other side’s goals, you get people emotionally invested in their side. And emotion makes a competition much easier to wrap in narrative. A political opponent is someone who is working to improve the country using different methods that you, yourself would use. You might disagree with the means, but you’ve got to love the goals. But if you wrap that up in a story, featuring good guys and bad guys, then suddenly you’ve got one side ACTIVELY TRYIN’ TA DEESTROY AMERICA! HE GON’ LET THE MOSLEMS IN!

And, forgive me, but that’s fucking stupid. Every politician who goes in for that needs a swift kicking. Every single one. Because every politician who tries to demonise the other side for a small jump up in the polls is helping to break that system just a little bit more.

In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. The only way to truly fix the political system would be to torch it to the ground and just make it as boring as we can. No more rousing speeches. No more televised debate. Just everyone paying a lot more attention to the boring political process because it’s important, rather than exciting. And that will never, ever happen, because we’re a planet of slack-jawed idiots and we get what we deserve.

DISCLAIMER: I have taken quite a few pot-shots at the American Right in here. That’s because they’re gits. This may sound hypocritical, but they’re the assholes behind the further polarisation of the American political system (and by creeping, seeping, awful fucking osmosis, the same of the British political system). Yes, they are bad guys. They feed off of people’s fear and stupidity for their own ends. I try to remain as politically neutral as possible, as I think there are dicks and idiots on all sides of the political plane, but the Tea Party and those that pander to them (HI MITT!) are the worst of modern politics. The Left might be naive and idealistic, but at their very worst, they try to help too many people with too little. Give me that over the “this huge pile of food is mine, and you’ll fucking starve to death before I give you any of it” excesses of the Right any day.

Mar
07

Everyone on the internet has, by now, seen that fucking Invisible Children documentary about Joseph Kony. If you haven’t, it’s here:

http://vimeo.com/37119711

Go watch it. Go become aware of Joseph Kony. Know what he’s all about, learn of the atrocities and terrible things he has done and realise that the man is an absolute, shit-eating bastard and should be buggered by wolves wearing porcupine husks as condoms. Then go do a bit more research about the man and about who made the video and what they’re about.

That fucking video (and it shall remain “that fucking video” until the end of time) was made by a charity called Invisible Children. They have some questionable beliefs about this whole Joseph Kony business, but I’m not going to bore you by going into them. Instead, I’d rather you went off and did some research right after I bore you with something else.

The fucking video has caused an odd reaction around the social media watercoolers. First came an incredible, overnight surge in interest as that fucking video went more viral than a Splott girl’s week-old underoos. After that considerable outpouring of interest toward the fucking video came the backlash where some people smelt something fishy and said so, many of them in a fairly dickish way (me among them). Then came the backlash-backlash; the animosity aimed at those people debating the validity of the internet’s most recent cause, claiming that the people who questioned the cause were cynical assholes trying to tear down the cause.

Oh fuck off.

It’s not cynical to expect people to do a modicum of goddamn research into a cause before getting down on their knees and giving a good, ol’ fashioned tongue-bath to its balls. Questioning the agenda of a manipulative documentary isn’t the same as trying to “tear down the cause”. It isn’t the slightest bit unreasonable to respond with frustration when half the internet suddenly latches onto a piece of propaganda put out by a source they would know is suspect if they took the time to back up their fake fucking conviction with a modicum of fact.

So you can sit in your computer chair, re-post that fucking video and jack yourself off with your “World’s Most Charitable Person” handkerchief all you like. But don’t be surprised when people point out that maybe you aren’t helping anything and that maybe, by lumpen-headedly leaping at the first cause that someone manages to dress up with fancy words and pictures, you’re actually hurting people. Sometimes, doing nothing is infinitely preferable to doing something wrong.

Nobody thinks stopping Joseph Kony is a bad thing, but stopping him in a way that, and I’m going to say this next part through a microphone incase you aren’t listening, ENDS UP POTENTIALLY KILLING CHILDREN IS A VERY FUCKING BAD THING. Forgive me if I’m getting a little irate because of this, but seriously, the “I saw a video on the internet and now I believe it 100% because the video told me to” mentality is the reason Barack Obama had to whip out his birth certificate to shut these goddamn idiots up.

Sometimes, supporting a good cause in a way that does nothing is worse than doing nothing at all. If everyone became aware of a problem but did nothing to fix it, that shit would not get fixed. So if the Kony2012 video has made you want to help someone out in Uganda, go donate some money to UNICEF. Then by all means go shoot a load into your handkerchief. You’ll have actually earned it. 

Why do you people make me want to hurt you so bad?

Aug
08

It’s 22:30 on the eighth of August, 2011 and I, like everyone else in Britain, am glued to my computer, scouring Twitter, the newspapers and the BBC for any information on the riots that are flaring up across the country.

And more than the riots themselves, what’s making me sick is the rampant politico-point-scoring that’s cropping up everywhere I look. From the bleeding-heart lefties, to the kill-’em-all-and-let-God-set-them-alight-for-eternity right wingers, everyone is using these riots to fuel their own agenda; framing the issue as a blow against austerity measures/immigration policies (delete as appropriate).

It’s pretty clear that for all the talk of disaffected, impoverished youths who have been let down by the system, there is no ideology behind these riots. What started out as a peaceful protest against the questionable shooting of a man quickly blossomed into an orgy of looting, violence and brutality for the sake of it. Yes, the sheer senselessness of it points to a failing somewhere in society. After all, rioters rarely leap from the womb fully-formed, with a Molotov cocktail in one hand and a broken bottle in the other. There are choices made by the government that have the potential to make a lot of people angry. But to lay the blame at the feet of society and say these people were driven to this? No. If you’ll pardon my French, go get fucked.

Everyone is feeling the pinch. Everyone is suffering. And everyone has a choice. They can choose to go smash a shop window and steal as much as they can carry, or they can choose to look around them and ask themselves how they can improve this shit situation that everyone is in. These people chose violence, and to say they were forced to take these measures is to say “whoopsiedaisy!” and wipe their asses for them after they’ve shit themselves. They are adults, and they made a choice, and to say otherwise is a terrible form of cowardice. As much as I might understand their anger (even though I’m unconvinced they have it), these people who are torching buildings with people still inside them are wrong. They are bad people, and they need to be punished as hard as they can be. Dissent against the government is a wonderful and necessary thing, but this isn’t dissent against the government. It’s war against innocents.

I’d be more forgiving of this rationale if the violence was being performed by the truly poor; the people who live twelve to a room and swap bottles for pennies, and who beg a living off the reluctant kindness of strangers. But when the looters are synchronizing via their Blackberry phones, posting pictures to the web using their internet connections and have electricity to power the TV and XBox they just stole, calling them “victims of a government-sanctioned poverty cycle” just doesn’t seem to hold water. These people don’t know poverty. These people know greed. You want to say they have no prospects? How about they go live in Uganda for a year, or Syria, or Haiti, and then we can talk about having no prospects.

And as for those vicious, sneering bastards lumbering on the other side of the fence, whose comments have even lost the no-phrase-more-fake opener of “I’m not racist, but…”: you did this. You’re so desperate to preach your xenophobic screed that you turn every situation in a soapbox, loudly proclaiming the evils of immigration which, as we all know, means “all the brown people”. And you marginalise people; you push them into a corner, and you make them feel unwanted, and you make them feel angry and, in the end, you give them that spark that causes them to react.

However, that’s all assuming this riot is race motivated, or contained purely within one (brown) demographic, as you’d love us all to believe. It’s not. Your narrative doesn’t jibe with the plot, but you’re screeching away regardless because you’re so desperately filled with hate and fear of anyone who doesn’t look and think like you. You’re disgusting. I don’t agree with their thesis, but the left have got it right; there are major socio-political issues that are underscoring these riots, and the issue is people like you.

So here’s me, looking out over the fraying edge and wondering what the Hell I can do. I think everyone’s in the wrong but I feel powerless to do anything, and I know, just from a glance at my Twitter feed, that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe millions of people feeling exactly the same as me; who don’t subscribe to any side but think the entire world has lost its mind for a while.

So, for those people: Look after one another, call up to see if your friends are ok. Everyone’s feeling a little scared that their place is going to spark up next, and a friendly voice can do wonders to take the edge off. Look around and choose to make this shitty situation better in any way you can.

And for God’s sake, if you hear a rumour, verify it before repeating it. We don’t need folks shivering under their duvets because of something a friend’s brother’s cousin’s aunt heard over a crackly radio.

Stick together. Stay calm, stay sane, stay safe, and I’ll see you in the morning.

Apr
22

Existentialists believe that the glass is half empty, so if we want a drink we’d better fill it up our damn selves.

Nihilists believe that the glass has shattered into a thousand tiny pieces, each of which has scattered across the floor like confetti, coming to rest alone and lonely and useless and this whole thing is pointless anyway.

Determinists believe that something has caused the glass to be either half-full or half-empty. Determinists have yet to find an either/or question they couldn’t be a massive dick about.

Fatalists believe that the glass has always been doomed to be half-empty, because you don’t get to be called a fatalist if you have a positive life-view.

Objectivists believe the glass is half full and belongs to them, and if you want a drink you should stop being such a parasite, get a job and buy your own glass and liquid to fill it with.

Humanists believe that if the glass is half full it’s because someone filled it, and if it’s half empty it’s because someone drank it. That’s it.

Post-structuralists believe that whether the glass is half full or half empty depends entirely on who’s looking at it.

Post-modernists believe the glass is half-full. halffull. halful. hawlful. awlful. awful. owful. owlful. fowlful. sowlful.  soulful.

Atheists don’t believe in the glass. They know the glass is there, and they know how much liquid it contains, but belief is a fallacy.

Theists believe that trying to divine the nature of the glass is pointless, but they have faith that the glass is there.

After sitting in a dark room and thinking for a long time, Rationalists have reached the conclusion that the glass is on the table and it holds a quantity of liquid. But they can’t be certain.

Egoist anarchists believe that the glass rightfully belongs to them unless you’re stronger than they are, in which case here’s your glass, sir. Would you like me to get you a napkin? … please don’t hurt me.

Absurdists believe the glass is half full of snakes and is made of urine. Just kidding; the snakes are badgers and The Joker does a little dance.

Apr
19

The term “singer-songwriter” has turned into a slur. It has become associated with images of pretentious young snots in too-tight jeans wandering in and out of coffee shops, toting fashionably-stained acoustic guitars upon which they play cynically self-centred and derivative love songs at an audience that just can’t seem to care. The phrase has become a by-word for overly-sentimental pap written by people who think “heart-strings” are a synonym for “purse-strings”, and that tugging at the former will undoubtedly loosen the latter.

Thankfully though, there are artists who know how to distil sadness into a song without making it feel like a cash-grab; they’re few and far between, but they exist. And Fran Smith is among them. A young songwriter hailing from Newcastle, she combines graceful piano compositions with a lyrical talent that manages to be intelligent without coming off as smug or gimmicky (I’m looking right at you, Arctic Monkeys). She’s recently released her first EP, titled “Fran Smith – Live at The Sage Gateshead”, which is available here.

We Will Have No More Marriages
Smith sets the tone for the entire CD with a delicate piano that teeters on the brink of hopefulness without ever quite spilling over the edge. After letting the piano linger in the air for a few moments her voice comes in, low, slow and heavy with something like regret. That’s not to say the song is a sad one; there’s an element of smirking defiance present when Fran sings:

“And let them all say “she drowned in sin”
‘Cos only you and I know just how true I’ve been.”

But this defiance is cut with a kind of peaceful surrender. It’s something happier than melancholy,
but it’s not far off.

Take These Bones
The opening track of the EP showcases Fran’s skill at crafting a beautiful piano line, but it’s not until this track that we really get a sense of her ability to write a good hook. The song is a faintly jaunty tune with a killer chorus; the line “remember you’re taxing the poor” will be bouncing around your head for days after hearing this song, and her obviously-Northern accent adds a certain charm to the lyric. It looks good written down but only really comes alive when you hear her sing it in her inimitable style.

1,035 Days
It’s easy to talk about the lyrics of the album; they are very much the focus of the songwriting. More than anything, the voice and the music dance to the lyric’s beat and on the entire EP it’s never more noticeable than in this track. As Fran describes in the pre-song preamble, it’s “not a very happy song”. The song is a gentle drift through the slow death of a relationship as she picks out tiny pinpricks of pain through the lyrics and the occasionally-atonal piano. This track is that heavy, grey knot in the pit of your stomach that rises at that moment when you realise you’ve lost something very dear to you, somehow managing to seem insubstantial whilst still being powerful.

Orion
This is the song that you will remember. If you forget everything else, this is what will stand out in your memory. Inspired by her love of astrology, this song is a lonely waltz that showcases Fran Smith’s fantastic lyrical ear. “It startles like birds/or like four-letter words/When you light up/ Orion” she sings above the beautifully simple piano line.

Bee-Lines
The closing song starts as a slow ballad with the verses being reminiscent of some of Anna Nalick’s gentler tracks, before a soaring, cathartic chorus rises over everything else in the song. “Orion” is the centrepiece of the album, no doubt, but the chorus here is definitely the high point. The piano breakdown near the end is nearly perfect, before it segues back into the beautiful chorus. In an ideal world, this song would be the soundtrack to every vaguely romantic scene in the world.

This is a new artist who deserves to be huge. For the hipsters among you who’d like to hitch your wagon to an artist before she’s discovered by the masses, or for those of you who just like a nice bit of old-fashioned lyricism with your lilting piano pieces, Fran Smith is something to hear. Her music doesn’t break the mould, nor does she spend her time trying to make something new for the sake of making something new; instead she writes old-fashined songs that echo the beautiful obscurity of Leonard Cohen’s poetry by way of Sara Bareilles’ most heartbreaking piano-ballads. And for that, she’s entirely unique.

You can find Fran Smith on Myspace at http://www.myspace.com/fransongs and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/fransongslive